The current labor market is experiencing unprecedented shifts, with a significant number of job openings and a seemingly shrinking workforce. This has become a hot topic in various industries, including the plastics sector, as companies struggle to fill vacancies and navigate the changing landscape. This article will delve into the factors contributing to this labor market conundrum and how the plastics industry can adapt to these changes.

The Disappearing Workforce

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 10.4 million job openings in September 2021, with 7.4 million people actively looking for work in October 2021. In the manufacturing sector, there were 897,000 openings. The pandemic has led to disruptions and complexities we are still feeling in the plastics labor market situation. As a result, the question of where workers have gone and when they will return remains uncertain.

The Plastics Industry: A Growing Demand for Skilled Workers

Perc Pineda, the chief economist for the Plastics Industry Association, estimated that the plastics industry would have 145,000 job openings between 2019 and 2029. However, due to pandemic-related disruptions, this number has increased by 4 percent (5,700 additional openings). The manufacturing sector has experienced a long-term shortage of skilled workers, further exacerbated by the pandemic.

Technological advancements in the industry, such as automation and robotics, have intensified the need for skilled workers. However, a significant portion of the current workforce lacks the necessary skills to operate within this new environment.

The Great Resignation: Factors Contributing to the Labor Shortfall

The labor market’s current situation can be attributed to several factors. These include:

  1. Changing Priorities: Many workers have reassessed their life and career goals, leading them to pursue stability and staying where they are rather than considering a completely new career path. This shift in priorities has resulted in a large number of employees staying in their current jobs.
  2. Remote Work Opportunities: Recent times have popularized remote work, and many employees have grown accustomed to the flexibility it offers. As a result, some individuals may be reluctant to return to on-site positions, seeking out remote job opportunities instead.
  3. Job Market Competition: With a high number of job openings across various industries, job seekers still have more options than they are used to. This increased competition means that employers must offer competitive wages, benefits, and working conditions to attract and retain top talent.
  4. Burnout: The demands of working with a heavy amount of requests, coupled with personal challenges and stressors, have led to widespread burnout among workers. This has caused some employees to take a step back from their careers, either temporarily or permanently, to focus on their mental health and well-being.
  5. Skills Mismatch: As industries evolve, the skills required for various roles change. Many workers may lack the necessary skills to transition to new positions, leading to a mismatch between the available jobs and the skills of the workforce.
  6. Demographic Shifts: As the baby boomer generation continues to retire, companies are struggling to replace the wealth of experience and knowledge that these employees bring to the workplace. The younger generations may have different expectations and career goals, further contributing to the labor shortage.

Addressing the Labor Shortage in the Plastics Industry

The plastics industry can address the current labor shortage by adopting various strategies, such as:

  1. Investing in technology to optimize production and reduce dependency on manual labor.
  2. Developing and promoting training programs to upskill the existing workforce and attract new talent.
  3. Collaborating with educational institutions to create pathways for students interested in manufacturing careers.
  4. Working with a recruiter to attract and retain top workers in the industry.
  5. Focusing on creating a positive work environment that emphasizes work-life balance and employee well-being.


The plastics industry, like many others, is grappling with the challenges posed by the current environment. To thrive in this new reality, companies must adapt to the changing labor market by investing in technology, upskilling their workforce, and creating attractive working conditions. By doing so, they can ensure their long-term success and contribute to a more resilient and robust industry.

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